Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Photo Hunting Trip To Rajang And Belawai

3 of us, Steve, Abana and myself went on a photo hunting trip to the coastal villages of Rajang and Belawai last week. We left Sibu for Sarikei by bus early in the morning at 6.45 am, arriving one and a half hour later.After a simple breakfast in a Muslim stall at the Sarikei Express Boat Terminal, we boarded the 9 o'clock express boat heading for Tg. Manis. This 28-km journey took us an hour, with several stops along the way to pick up more passengers and also to allow some passengers to disembark at the sawmills and plywood factories. We finally arrived at the Tg. Manis Wharf (above picture) at slightly after 10am.

This impressive dome-shape building greeted us upon entering the multi-million ringgit boat terminal. It houses a restaurant on the left and several offices at the right.After a few shots, we hurried through this building onto the street leading us to the new Tg. Manis Township which is just 50 yards behind the terminal.We needed to find a place to stay and we were very lucky indeed to almost immediately locate a signage saying " Rooms for rent". At the instruction of her Chinese boss, a local Melanau lady led us to a guest room on the first floor. The air conditioned room is a bit small for the 3 of us, but what are you expecting when the rate is only RM40 per night? The room is decently clean but you have to be contended with sharing the common toilet and bathroom outside.After checking in, we had a full and proper breakfast cum lunch at Wang's Corner, a Chinese restaurant serving halal food. The restaurant is owned by a friend who has been there for 8 years already.The food and drinks, including a big slice of fish and a big portion of prawn costed us less than RM50, very reasonablely priced indeed.

Before I take you onto the journey to Kampong Rajang and Belawai, here are two pictures of the Tg. Manis Wharf taken at dawn the next morning. We were actually expecting a spectacular sunrise but we had to be satisfied with a gloomy morning without a full and red sun greeting us.

The wharf is always an interesting location to take many photos. So after the early lunch we proceeded back to the wharf area.The Tg. Manis Express Boat Wharf is one of the best in Sarawak and it was constructed earlier than the ones in Sibu and Kuching. It has been fully utilized and well maintained but its future role will be sceptical after the completion of the 70 km road from Sibu to Tg. Manis.

The main means of public transport within the Tg.Manis-Rajang-Belawai areas are by van and small truck. The pick-up point is at the wharf and they will bring you to your destinations after the arrival of each express boat. The road conditions are good, I would say most of them are better than the Sibu roads.

We decided on using the truck, thinking it would be more stable for us to shoot while travelling along the road. It had only 6 passengers including the 3 of us, so it was spacious and comfortable with the cushioned seats. It costed us RM4 each to travel from Tg. Manis to Kampong Rajang which is approximately 12 km.

At Kampong Rajang we walked a short distance to the wharf of Lembaga Kemajuan Ikan Malaysia (LKIM) and waited for the returning fishing boats with their harvests of fish and prawn. The local fishermen told us that it is now the beginning of the prawn season which usually lasts until August.

The government wharf here is the centre for fish and prawn collection with LKIM as their collecting agent for all the catches from the sea. LKIM is also supplying subsidized diesel to the fishermen. The facilities here sort out and prepare the fish and prawn for wholesale to Sarikei and other towns.

It was low tide during the time we were at Kuala Rajang. You can notice in the above picture the difference in colour of the water as the yellowish brown river water was flowing out to the South China Sea.
And as the tide came in, the water was becoming more clear.

The skipper of the express boat which took us from Sarikei to Tg. Manis was caught here struggling with a big fish which was as long as his legs. He would bring back the fish during his return trip to sell it in Sarikei Town.

I am allergic to prawn but that did not deter me from consuming them for 3 meals during this trip. They were super fresh and very cheap as well.

This young lady was travelling in the same truck with us. Towing a heavy luggage with an Air Asia tag, she probably was returning home from KL. I caught her looking very anxious to reach home.

It was surprising that after a short walk along the beach from the LKIM Wharf, we had reached the village at Belawai.The boys and girls in the picture below were posing for us under the shady trees while their parents were busy building and repairing boats and also putting out salted fish to dry under the scorching sun.

The Melanau fishing village at Belawai

Building a new fishing boat. Melanau fishermen all over Sarawak are expert boat builders, but it would still take them a whole month to complete one.

The hull of this boat is completely built with Belian timber. Since Belian is very hard and would crack when nailed, the fishermen are putting together the pieces with "wooden nails" instead.Not a single iron nail would be used.

It is common sight to see people drying fish in the village

Belawai Town is still 2 rows of single storey shophouses. One row consists of 2 wooden shophouses and the other row with 4 concrete shophouses.

After a short break and refreshment at a coffee shop in Belawai, we headed to kampong Rajang again. This time we visited the famous Pusat Tenunan Songket Rajang where it produced very fine traditional Malay textile.The textile is beautifully hand woven and apart from meeting the local demand, it is also being exported to some foreign markets.

The songket centre is manned by more than 20 workers, with Puan Hajah Sa'anah Hj Suhaili (centre in picture below) as the Manageress. I asked Puan Sa'anah if all the workers were female and she answered they were all female from their teens to early 60s. I volunterred to be the first and only male worker to the roar of laughter from herself and her staff. I really don't mind to be the temporary colleague of pretty and friendly Faziana (above) who is waiting for her STP results.

After the Songket factory, we shot off to another fishing village in Rajang, hoping to catch the returing fishermen before sunset. It turned out to be too early and we ended up at some jetties there. At the end of a long concrete jetty was this shelter where we found the 3 boys relaxing in the hammock.

Then we went to another jetty, a very precarious wooden jetty leading out to the sea. Still no fisherman was to be found. The sun was beginning to set. We positioned ourselves in some strategic locations waiting for a beautiful sunset.But much to our disappointment, there was again no spectacular sunset.

I only managed to take some shots of this Panama registered vessel heading out to sea with its cargo of woodchips. Another consolation was the silhouetted picture (below) of an abandoned giant steel structure of a woodchip factory which was closed down many years ago.

After two seafood meals for dinner and supper at Tg. Manis, we found our stomach and legs too unwilling to take us further. So we retired to the small room at the lodging house for a good rest. We all woke up early the next morning at 5.30 am in preparation for the sunrise shot, but that was disappointing. After breakfast at 7 am, we walked 2 km to the site of the Tg. Manis Halal Hub where PM Abdullah was due to officiate its launching later that afternoon.
The trip wasn't that fruitful, but it was interesting, especially that it was the first time the 3 of us were travelling together. Barely 2 days after we came back, Abana called to inform that he would be bringing his colleagues to Belawai again this coming Saturday. I was invited and I couldn't say no because I still want to take many pictures of the fishermen, the children and hopefully during this coming trip the beautiful sunrise and sunset will be there waiting for me. And the good thing is we will be staying together with the fishermen at their Belawai village.

TM Asia Life New Sibu Office

The young and handsome boss, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO), Mr. Jun Tokura from Japan
The bosses with top agents from all over Sarawak and Sabah. East Malaysia contributes to 35% of the total new business premiums of the group. Sibu alone has 59 agents servicing 7,300 customers.

Emphasising a point to a representative from Sabah

Mr. Jun Tokura welcoming the lion dance at the new office

The DCEO leading his senior Malaysian management team to cut the ribbon and thereafter officially declared open the Sibu Office.

Ms HN Loi, Senior Unit Manager from Miri giving her biggest smile

Ms Sophia, One of the branch managers in Sibu (above) Bottom picture shows (from left) Sing Chen from KL office, Mary from Mc Events who was in charge of organising events for the official opening, Sophia and Umie from Sibu Branch.

I was assigned as Official Photographer for the opening of Tokio Marine Asia Life (TM Asia Life) new office in Sibu on February 24. Thanks to TM Asia Life and Mc Events for the opportunity. Here are just some random pick of the event to share with you.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wooden Boats Of The 60s

I have special interest in all kinds of boats. I find the wooden boats of the 50s and 60s very fascinating both in terms of their designs and usage.It has become a routine to check if there are such "ancient" boats being moored at the various wharves and jetties. At the Tua Pek Kong Wharf in Sibu, the only such boat making a twice weekly call is Sin Kin Do. This boat plys between Sibu and Matu Daro, carrying mostly agricultural products and seafood such as fish , prawn and jelly fish from the coastal towns to Sibu while on the return trip it usually carries food and building materials. During a recent trip to Sarikei and Tanjung Manis, I discovered several of these wooden boats which are being used as workboat for the stevedoring companies. The above picture shows a workboat moored alongside a small vessel carrying sawn timber in Tanjung Manis. All the following pictures were taken at the wharf in Sarikei.

These two brightly painted boats, the Sin Hua Soon No. 2 (above) and Sin Hai Soon (below) were built more than 50 years ago. They were originally intended to serve as general cargo boats, but with the accessibility by roads to most of the towns and rural settlements in the last 15-20 years, the important roles of river transport traditionally played by these boats were gradually replaced by lorries and trailers.

Fortunately the anchorage at Tanjung Manis is still able to provide opportunities for some of these boats to serve as workboats where stevedores can eat, rest or stay overnight until loading of logs and other processed timber products to the big vessels is completed.

The boat is almost entirely built of wood. The thick hull is always made from the water and insect resistance belian timber which is also called the Borneo Ironwood.Very often the bow, stern and the sides are reinforced by steel plates.Some of the larger workboats are double decker. The upper deck is for the skipper and his crew while the entire lower deck is kind of store room cum dormitory which can accomodate up to 30 stevedores. Stevedores usually work in shifts until loading or discharging is totally completed.

The pictures below allow you to have a glimpse of the interior of the workboat.

The wheelhouse. Notice the big wooden steering wheel. Most modern steering wheels are much smaller and made of steel or brass. The wooden box at right doubles as a chair and bed for the skipper.

The front portion of the lower deck where supplies and equipment are kept.

This is the middle portion which is the dormitory.

The engine room

The kitchen with fresh water tank at the stern is separated from the bathroom and toilet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PM Abdullah Launching The Tanjung Manis Halal Hub

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was this afternoon in Tanjung Manis, Sarawak, to officially launch the Tanjung Manis New Township Halal Hub. Tanjung Manis is located at the mouth of the Rajang River, about 87 km from Sibu.

The Halal Hub is expected to initially attract RM2 billion investment, mainly from the Taiwanese and Middle East investors.When fully developed, it will be the world's largest halal hub covering a total of 47,000 acres.

The halal-based industries will include marine fish farming, bio prawn farming, organic chicken and egg,eel farming, chlorella industries ( green algae) and many others.

The site of the Halal Hub is strategically located at the intersection of the roads leading to the coastal towns of Rajang,Jerijeh and Belawai, and only a short 2km from the Tanjung Manis New Township.

Tanjung Manis is poised to become a major industrial town within the next 10 years. Currently the major industries are timber based . In the near future there will also be heavy investment in the fishing and shipbuilding industries.

The above photo taken this morning is part of the land for the 47,000 acres Halal Hub.

Also taken this morning, these two pictures (above and below) show the multi million ringgit Tanjung Manis Jetty which was completed several years ago.

By 10 am, thousands of people from all walks of life, especially the Malay and Melanau people from the coastal areas had arrived in Tanjung Manis to welcome the Prime Minister and Sarawak's Chief Minister.
Presently the only means of transport to Tanjung Manis are by air and by river. There are several flights a week from Kuching to Tanjung Manis and daily boat trips from Sibu and Sarikei. The road from Sibu to Tanjung Manis is expected to be ready in 2 years' time. Connecting the road are more than 10 big and small bridges, the longest of which at Bawang Assan will be 1.4 km , making it the longest bridge in Sarawak. When both the road and the bridges are ready, the 70km journey will only take less than an hour to drive from Sibu to Tanjung Manis. Undoubtedly by then Tanjung Manis will become a favourite place for Sibuians to indulge themselves in savouring the plentiful fresh seafood available there.